The people of God in Isaiah’s day had starved their imagination by looking on the face of idols, and Isaiah made them look up at the heavens; that is, he made them begin to use their imagination aright. Nature to a saint is sacramental. If we are children of God, we have a tremendous treasure in Nature. In every wind that blows, in every night and day of the year, in every sign of the sky, in every blossoming and in every withering of the earth, there is a real coming of God to us if we will simply use our starved imagination to realize it. —Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
I have a stack of black-and-white Composition Books in a basket next to my computer, fifty-cent, English-teacher, 9¾” X 7½” wide-ruled journals. When one fills, I start another. They are labeled by season and year, along with book titles and authors quoted. This morning I take a stack downstairs with my morning coffee to see if I have pieces of May/Late Spring already written to get me started on this chapter of my cabin project. Finding a writing rhythm after this first week of settling in.
These journals all follow a similar “organizational pattern”—insights from my morning scripture reading or devotional, notes and quotes from authors/nonfiction books I am currently reading, and descriptions of this place on that particular day. A snapshot of my mind. Oswald Chambers’ words about “the starving of the imagination” sit next to my journaling about the nature of womens’ lives . . . “a continual giving and giving up,” next to a description of the vision I had after chemo of me happy and healthy in my apron, with my soft jiggly arms and new white hair . . . rolling out pie crusts on a low marble countertop, across the page from a recipe for “Crumb Topping” for Apple or Pear Crisp. A granddaughter had texted while I was writing and since I didn’t have a written recipe I’d scratched it here in Spring/Summer 2017 journal before taking a photo and texting it back with this note: “If it’s Pear Crisp be sure to zest an orange and squeeze the juice of it over the pears before adding the crumb topping.”
I’m sure this sounds crazy and inefficient, but it seems my mind functions best if I let it move where it will, making connections I would not logically discover had I compartmentalized this daily journaling. Sometimes the reward is as simple as discovering exactly what I need when I revisit them. One memory completely written. The origin and significance of one mystery still being pondered. One weather report and slice of life May 6, 2017. One dream that became a promise.
This morning’s revisiting has sent me from May 2017 to the quotes I copied last November while reading Katherine Mays’ Wintering, her description of dressing in a common area after soaking in the Blue Lagoon “under the thunder of the warm waterfall” in Iceland. And it feels familiar somehow to me . . . like the passage I’ve already written about sitting on Grandma’s bed when we were little girls, watching her dress, fascinated with her silky wide-legged undergarments and the way she braided her hair into a crown. It’s connection to “the nature of women’s lives” hasn’t bubbled to the surface a whole piece just yet, but it’s there. I make a note.
In the changing room later, I experience a different kind of warmth—the nakedness of a dozen women, all unashamed. They aren’t the posing bodies you find on the beach, dieted beyond all joy to be bikini-ready and tanned as an act of disguise. These are northern bodies, slack-bottomed and dimpling . . . chattering in a language I didn’t understand. They are a glimpse of life yet to come: a message of survival, passed on through generations. It’s a message I rarely find in my buttoned-up home country, and I think about the times I’ve suffered silent furies at the treacheries of my own body, imaging them to be unique. We don’t know ourselves in context. But there is evidence of wintering here, freely shared like an exchange of precious gifts. (p. 38)
I think we become impatient with the creative process. The “idea” isn’t the signal to begin writing. The idea is the impetus to follow it where it takes us, let it get bigger and messier so we can discover how bright and shining it is or isn’t, what we really think about it, why it has grabbed our attention, how it connects to a theme or truth we feel moved to share. My unruly journaling helps me do this.
I have a handmade leather journal with a winding leather tie whose beauty draws me. It was a gift. But every time I open it, I’m tempted to write something edited, perfect, worthy. I purpose to use it this summer. I will “lift up my eyes” and fill it with ideas and beauty and inspiration. Then, I’ll open another black composition book and get to work on them. What ‘s your writing process?